Monday, November 17, 2008

Anti-Prop. 8 protests' energy comes late

As thousands gather in cities across the nation today to protest the passage of Proposition 8, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, some are asking, "Where were all these people a few weeks ago?"

After all, so many fired-up advocates of the right to same-sex marriage could have proved a powerful grass-roots army to knock on doors, work phone banks and get out the vote against Prop. 8. Many volunteers worked against the measure, to be sure, but not this many, and the outpouring of emotion since last week's vote has led some to wonder why it did not come earlier.

"I think after the election many Californians woke up and couldn't believe that discrimination had been written into our state constitution, that a narrow majority had actually voted to take away the rights of a minority," said Stuart Gaffney of San Francisco, who with his husband, John Lewis, were among couples that sued and led the California Supreme Court in May to overturn the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage.

That case and ruling inspired same-sex marriage foes to pursue Prop. 8, which by changing the state's constitution sought to render the court's ruling moot. Gaffney and Lewis worked long and hard against the ballot measure.

"The experience of having your rights taken away is one that naturally people need to respond to," Gaffney said, noting that it is easier to get angry after the fact, even if one saw it coming. "It's a natural human emotion, when you Advertisementsee an injustice has been done and rights have been stripped away, that people say, 'This cannot stand.'"

And it's apparently a spontaneous, unharnessed force.

"I can tell you that the protests taking place around the state and the country have nothing to do with the No on Prop. 8 campaign. These protests and rallies are being developed at the grass-roots level," No on 8 spokesman Bill Bradley said.

By the same token, supporters of the ban on same-sex marriage say this bubbling up of emotion is unseemly and disrespectful of the majority who voted for it.

"The voters, who have twice passed propositions in favor of the definition of traditional marriage, have had their will disrespected by unruly protests and a series of lawsuits designed to overturn their vote," Yes on 8 campaign manager Jeff Flint said Friday. "And some of the protests have clearly crossed the line from legitimate public discourse into outrageous behavior."

Flint said that tactics, such as targeting churches and trying to get Yes on 8 contributors fired from their jobs, is going too far, and No on 8 leaders and elected officials who opposed the measure must speak out against such tactics.

In fact, No on 8 spokeswoman Ali Bay issued a statement earlier Friday noting that the campaign "condemns any sort of threats or vandalism. We understand people are rightfully outraged by the passage of Prop. 8. However, we call upon everyone, including Prop. 8 supporters who have made serious threats to Prop. 8 opponents throughout the state, to express themselves through the correct processes."

Same-sex marriage supporters say that it is a matter of channeling the energy creatively, and many agree the cause would have been better served had that happened before the vote.

"What's remarkable is that the best activism and creativity I've seen from the LGBT community in years has come in the immediate AFTERMATH of this vote," prominent political blogger and Democratic State Central Committee member David Dayen of Santa Monica wrote this week. "The talent was out there, but wasn't channeled during the campaign."

For example, Dayen wrote, activists used wiki-based technology to set up today's national day of action; this is the sort of innovation and energy that might have turned the tide had it come a few weeks earlier.

Efren Bose of San Francisco — a Filipino-American who married his partner in 2004 when San Francisco began issuing same-sex marriage licenses, only to see that license voided that by the state Supreme Court later that year — blogged this week that the No on 8 campaign should have watched how their opponents reached out to people of color rather than focusing on a largely white, gay, urban population.

"It's time for the white LGBT community and those who are in support of same-sex marriage in the big cities to recognize that there were obviously missed opportunities to establish and create coalitions of like-minded people across race and ethnicity, religion, class, and region; and that these coalitions need to be established and nurtured, NOW," he wrote.

Any unsuccessful political campaign breeds recriminations, and Gaffney said that what's happening now lays groundwork for the next battle.

Prop.8 foes have asked the state Supreme Court to overturn it, arguing that it is not a narrow constitutional amendment but rather a sweeping revision of equal-protection rights — the kind of revision that can be placed on the ballot only by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, not by a signature drive like Prop. 8 was. If the court disagrees, some Prop. 8 foes already are calling for a measure on 2010's ballot to repeal this measure.

"A grass-roots movement is being born," Gaffney said.

No on 8 organizer Cat Kim of San Francisco said that there is no time for regret.

"I do regret that it took the denial of a civil right to unleash this wave of activism, but now that it's here, we can all reach for the dream of full equality together."

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